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78-Year-Old NC Man Says He Punched Mama Bear in The Nose

Sonny Pumphrey, 78, was working in his driveway Tuesday afternoon when he said he looked up and found himself eye to eye with a black bear, according to a post on his Facebook page.
Credit: Doug Walker

WAYNESVILLE - A Haywood County man says he punched a mother black bear in the nose after she came toward him at his home off Liberty Church Road.

Sonny Pumphrey, 78, was working in his driveway Tuesday afternoon when he said he looked up and found himself eye to eye with a black bear, according to a post on his Facebook page.

“He was taken to Haywood Regional Hospital and released. He sustained scratches and possibly a small puncture,” said Fairley Mahlum, spokeswoman with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

She said the bear had two yearling cubs with her.

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Second bear attack this fall

This is the second black bear attack in Western North Carolina in less than two months, according to the Wildlife Commission.

In September, Toni Rhegness, 75, of Swannanoa, suffered serious, non-life threatening injuries after she was bitten and scratched by a female black bear near her home.

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Rhegness was walking her dog on a leash about 10:30 p.m. Sept. 18 when she saw three bear cubs in a neighbor’s trash. As her dog barked, Rhegness shouted to scare the cubs off, picked up her dog and headed toward her home. The adult, female bear, which Rhegness hadn’t seen, then bit and scratched her repeatedly.

“It’s important to note that this black bear's behavior was defensive, not predatory, and the bear may have been responding to the barking dog,” said Colleen Olfenbuttel, Wildlife Commission black bear and furbearer biologist.

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Mahlum said the Waynesville incident might have been a similar situation, in which the mother bear was acting in defense of her cubs.

“Both of these incidents occurred when females were with cubs, and both involved people yelling at the mother bear,” Mahlum said. “The folks did what they thought was the right thing, yelling and making noise, but they were so close, in both of the incidents, less than 20 feet from the bear. If this bear wanted to maul him, she could have, but she ran off.”

Mahlum said wildlife officers set a trap for the bear, but it is unlikely she will be caught because it is believed that she was passing through the area, which has not had many black bear sightings.

In the Swannanoa attack, wildlife staff trapped the adult bear and cubs and euthanized the adult bear to protect human safety and to keep the cubs from learning her behavior, Olfenbuttel said.

What to do if you see a bear

In cases where a bear is at least 50 feet away, Mahlum said that yelling, clapping and making noise can be an effective way to drive black bears away. But she said this technique is not recommended when very close to a bear, or when encountering a mother bear with cubs.

“If you encounter a bear up close, walk quietly away,” she said. “If you see cubs, don’t yell, because you’re seen as a threat. Only yell if you’re further away, and if bear has a clear escape route.”

She advises people to be aware of their surroundings and be on the lookout for bears, who are on the move now in search of food before the winter.

“This year we’re seeing a situation where their natural food sources are very low – the acorn crop was not good this year – so the bears are under more stress to find food than normal,” said Mike Carraway, a wildlife biologist with the commission.

“That’s causing bears to move around a lot more this year, so people may be seeing more bears.”

For more information on bear safety, visit BearWise.org.

Reporter John Boyle contributed to this report.